The Angel On The Roof contains 30 short stories drawn from 37 years of writing. These are generally brief, hard-nosed examinations of human confusion in the rural New Hampshire that is Russell Banks's home ground and the setting for his two best-known novels, Affliction and The Sweet Hereafter.
The great pleasure in browsing through this collection -- and, like most short story collections, it is best browsed and savoured rather than read straight through -- is that one never knows who one will meet, or in what voice they will be speaking.
The long, loping sentences of Djinn, about an American businessman's encounter with the ramshackle street justice of a small African city, don't much resemble the exact descriptive tone of Black Man And White Woman In Dark Green Rowboat, a moment of summer heat as precise as Wallace Stevens or Andrew Wyeth.
Though Banks keeps coming back to the dispossessed in their trailer parks, a setting that lumps him in with those writers Tom Wolfe derided as "rusted-gas-station realists," he is just as likely to write a story from inside the mind of Edgar Allan Poe, or tell of a college professor's encounter following a minor fender-bender.
Banks's central works are his novels, but he is a special short story writer. These are complete and in some cases spectacularly polished works that may have started anywhere. Some, I suspect, were begun as exercises in voice or point of view that turned into something quite different.
Anyone who likes the short stories of Richard Ford or Raymond Carver will enjoy these.
Banks reads this week at Harbourfront Centre (see Book Readings in the Event Listings).